Montgomery Co. on graduations, rent relief; bad news on vaccine doses

Leadership of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland spoke about new rental assistance and coronavirus-related rules for graduations at a briefing Monday.

Council President Tom Hucker announced the third phase of the county’s COVID Rent Relief program, thanks to money from the American Rescue Plan. It includes $59 million in emergency rental assistance — $31 million directly to the county, with $28 million passing through the state. The program provides up to $12,000 for families for up to 15 months of lost rent.

Hucker called the new money “a timely lifeline for our struggling tenants,” adding, “We already had too much housing instability in our area, and the pandemic has made things far worse.”

He said tenants seeking help could go to MC311.com/rentrelief, or call 311.

Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz added that the assistance was there for anyone needing help, irrespective of whether they had a lease or formal rent agreement.

Hucker said he was “disappointed” in the General Assembly’s inability to close a provision in state law that allowed landlords to file to evict a tenant once they’ve paid their back rent using federal money, and was looking for assurances from landlords that that wouldn’t happen.

“Because of the loopholes that were not addressed” by the assembly, Albornoz said, up to 14,000 county residents have received some kind of eviction paperwork. He said the government, working with community organizations, has reduced that number by about half, but thousands of families were still in danger.

Graduations

The council, sitting as the Board of Health, is set to vote Tuesday morning on a set of guidelines for in-person graduations that would set limits at 50% of capacity for outdoor venues and 25% of 250 people (whichever is less) for indoor venues; limit the number of people on the stage to 10; keep families separated by at least 6 feet, and more. Hucker said he was confident the proposal would pass,

Hucker also announced that the county’s General Assembly delegation has gotten $2.5 million for businesses, mostly small ones, affected by Purple Line construction.

Proms

No corsages, no prom dresses, no after parties.

This year, Montgomery County Public Schools won’t hold traditional proms.

Instead, MCPS Communications Supervisor Gboyinde Onijala said, the school system has proposed “Senior Unity Day” events that would take place outside at school stadiums or campuses.

“The events would feature creative ways for our students to engage with their peers,” while maintaining appropriate social distancing, Onijala said in an email.

Most events would take place during the month of May and are currently in the planning stages, said Onijala.

During a briefing with the Montgomery County Council on Monday, Earl Stoddard, with the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said his office had not been approached by the school system regarding proms or other events.

But, he said, “We’d really like to work with people to see how we can hold safe events.”


More Coronavirus News

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Vaccinations

Dr. Earl Stoddard, the county’s director of emergency management and homeland security, had encouraging numbers on COVID-19 cases, but hard ones on vaccines.

There were only 23 new cases of the coronavirus reported Monday, Hucker said, the lowest total in months — although testing volume was “incredibly low.” He added that the county’s case rate was 9.8 per 100,000 people, the third-lowest in Maryland. The county’s seven-day average positivity rate of 3.02% was the second-lowest in the state.

Stoddard, however, said the allocation for the mass vaccination site in Germantown would be reduced by about 20% this week, and hours and days of operation may have to be cut back.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if, by Friday, we’re just out of doses” for the week, Stoddard said.

He also said that he doesn’t expect a big bump in Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to make up last week’s loss of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines any time soon.

Indeed, if anything, he imagined the opposite would happen: The opening of other mass vaccination sites across the states would likely offset any increase.

“I’m not envisioning a huge dump of vaccines coming any time soon,” Stoddard said.

Stoddard also said the county government is in the “beginning phases of talking about” a plan for walk-up vaccination clinics.

He said it’s likely you still will have to preregister, but you can make your own appointment time. He added that soon the county would target small clinics to do walk-up events for people who are vulnerable. He said such moves were probably about three weeks away.

Unaccompanied minors

Albornoz also said Montgomery County has received about 70 students in the past few weeks who came into the country as unaccompanied minors at the Southern Border. He said they were working with community organizations to help the children, adding that this isn’t the first time in recent years the county has dealt with the situation: “There is an infrastructure in place, with a lot of lessons learned.” Working with public and private orgs to make a safety net.

Stoddard said the county was trying to schedule a call with FEMA and the federal department of Health and Human Services about getting financial support to assist the children.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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